Like most of Africa's cats the lion has evolved to live in many different habitats throughout the continent. Most prominent in our minds would be the classic open savannah, stretches of grassland that go on for as long as the eye can see with only a few trees here and there. This is where the lion was born, they evolved from these open savannahs of Eastern Africa. Grasses bring herds, which means prey and these savannahs are often the best places for lions to spend their time in the rainy season.
Although grasslands may be seen as a very successful place to live with its lush grasses during the wet season during the dry season the very same grasslands become empty scrublands. Due to the nature of the continent the lion has adapted to live in almost all corners of the continent using each area to their own advantage, adapting to the needs of the environment, changing it's behaviour to suit the differing areas. Lions are most commonly found in open savannah and the adjoining bush. The short bushes characterful of the continent are the ideal place to seek refuge in the hot sun, to keep cubs out of harms way and to stalk any potential prey. Lions are no stranger to desert life and they can still be found throughout regions such as Namibia, where a famous population of desert lions are researched and studied. Lions would have originally lived and travelled all over northern Africa right up to Egypt but their numbers all over the north have been eradicated. Here food is not readily available but other competition is also scarce. It is a tough life here with lions spending more time nomadic than in the larger prides seen in the open plains.
Africa may not have seasons but the dry and wet seasons can vary dramatically and often sparseness of food can be an issue in the dryer months as prey species migrate and travel to follow the new grass, lions however specifically those in prides tend to stay put in certain areas and will remain dependent on non-migratory prey species once the grass has been depleted. Nomadic males however are not tied down to any specific region may follow the herds as they migrate to make the most out of the valuable resource.
An Adaptable Predator
THE MAASAI MARA ECOSYSTEM - HOME OF OUR CONSERVATION PARTNER
A Safina Connection...
The Maasai Mara Ecosystem is made up of the main National Reserve and the surrounding conservancies which are privately owned by the Maasai landowners. In-between the conservancies and the reserve are several townships in what is known as the community areas. These three areas combined make the ecosystem which covers more than 580 square miles.
The area is primarily open grassland and known for its wide open plains, wildebeest frequent these large grass pastures between June and October during their annual migration from the Serengeti. The wildebeest migration is a very welcome time for the area's lion population as the potential prey population multiplies by an extraordinary number. The two largest rivers in the area, the Mara and the Talek forge their way through the plains and the rivers are normally surrounded by ahigher density of vegetation and mature trees. Woodlands are great places to seek refuge if there are young cubs around, if new males are taking over the pride lionesses may go to these woodlands to shelter their cubs from the fighting. Any rocky outcrops or higher ground that overlook the vast open plains used by the lions as a superb vantage point in which they can look out for prey and potential invaders. Some areas are covered by a large amount of 'bush' or scrub often thorny vegetation and smaller trees that provide cover for smaller species and also shade for the predators. Temperatures in the Maasai Mara can exceed 30 degrees Celsius and the lions can often be seen in the cover of these bushes during the midday sun.
The Maasai Mara is one of the last strongholds for wild lions in Kenya and is linked directly to the much larger Serengeti across the Tanzanian border.
Living On The Edge
The Asiatic Lion living in the top of Northern India in the Gir Forest, this area of temperate forest is one of the most dense areas of lion habitat. Here the lions live in much smaller family groups. With smaller prey species and in a habitat almost completely covered in trees and scrub living in large groups would not be beneficial. A very small population of lions are still found in the jungles of West and Central Africa showing the true extent of how far lions will live and the huge difference in habitat in which lions have historically succeeded.
All of these areas may experience very high temperatures easily souring into the 30's and 40's (degree Celsius) however many places in Africa also experience very cold nights entering minus temperatures. The lion is therefore very well adapted to experience many different habitats but also various temperatures night and day.
Life Away From The Wild
Lions are incredibly adaptable and have thrived in zoos all over the World and can become very adept tree climbers. Pictures below show lions in a UK Safari Park where their reserve is mainly ancient woodland. Here they have learnt the skills to climb trees to quite tall levels and the art of how to get back down (albeit a bit slower than climbing up) these tree climbing skills have been past through the pride with younger individuals taking the lead of the older more experienced ones. Tree climbing however is more common with the females than the males with the latter being far too heavy and not as flexible making it harder to summon the grace needed for tree climbing.
In Zoos and Safari Parks in the UK lions show their talent for adaption by thriving in winter temperatures. Modern lion remains have been found as far west as France and Germany, where caves would have provided refuge in the colder areas, zoo houses and shelters are built to provide a place draft and damp free. However lions will happily spend much of their time in their outside enclosures and will grow noticeably thicker coats to cope with the colder temperatures. In the wild however a cold season seen in Europe would see lions having to eat more regularly in order to conserve their fat levels as they are used up to keep their bodies warm.
Huge thanks go to Pete Cooper of Pete Cooper Wildlife for the use of two photos seen on this page from his trips to Africa, Kenya and Namibia in particular.
Historically lions have been able to survive in the savannahs from which they were born, deserts, jungles and the mountains of Northern Africa. Now as their population is in great decline many of these areas are now without the lions that used to roam them. Nevertheless we should not forget how adaptable this species truly is and the resilience in which they conquered most of the African continent and further afield.